Trustee fury over Jewish Music Institute boycott

By Jessica Elgot, March 31, 2011

A trustee of the Jewish Music Institute has expressed his anger and frustration that the organisation turned down Israeli funding for a conference under pressure from boycotters.

David Mencer, a former director of the Labour Friends of Israel, attacked JMI's "appalling lack of judgment and moral character in distancing itself from Israel."

He said the trustees had not been consulted by JMI director Geraldine Auerbach over the decision. Mr Mencer said he believed the organisation "had submitted to blackmail and given the Israel boycotters and Israel-haters an unnecessary victory.

"JMI has refused to accept a donation from the representatives of the democratically elected government of the state of Israel for an event about the music of Israel.

"We have made it even more difficult for other organisations trying hard to promote UK-Israel ties by setting this precedent.

"Perhaps most importantly of all, this decision will also have mortally damaged any future attempt to fundraise from the Jewish community, thus jeopardising the future of the organisation."

Campaigners from British Committee for the Universities of Palestine (BRICUP), Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods (J-BIG) and the Boycott Israel Network (BIN) had threatened to disrupt the "Arts Music of Israel" conference held by JMI at SOAS this week. Organisers turned down a £1,500 grant from the British Israeli Arts Training Scheme (BI-ARTS), after deciding they did not want political connections with the conference.

BRICUP declared a "victory" for the BDS movement and said they would no longer disrupt the conference.

Ms Auerbach said: "I was contacted by those who planned to disrupt the conference and I told them the situation. We did not enter into any negotiations with them, we did not have discussions. It has no bearing on any future decision we might take over funding from Israel."

An Israeli embassy spokesman said: "It is disturbing to see that certain bodies succumbed to pressures from external organisations whose sole purpose is to prevent dialogue. Not only that, but to co-operate with them, and to brusquely attach much-needed financial support for artists to a political agenda, is unhelpful."

LSE emeritus professor Jonathan Rosenhead of BRICUP said: "Clearly the event was formulated in close contact with the Israeli authorities. Nonetheless, we acknowledge that the organisers have now stated unambiguously that no Israeli funding or support has been received, even if they did change their story several times during our campaign."

Last updated: 12:05pm, March 31 2011